Save the Craft: Why Should We Lose What Michigan Wants?

In Beer Politics by Karl

As we mentioned last week, Save the Craft is a marathon, not a sprint.  There’s not much news to report from downstate today, but we wanted to pass on a couple things just to keep the ball rolling.

1)  Thanks to Matt Watson with the Columbia Chronicle for another illuminating report on Save the Craft.  Good info here from Greg Harris, sponsor of HB 205, and someone you should be supporting:

According to Harris, the Association of Beer Distributors of Illinois—a lobbying firm—and Anheuser-Busch are fighting the legislation and attempting to force small beer producers to compete with international corporations’ interests.

“They want to control the marketplace,” Harris said. “The small brewers want to be able to break into the marketplace. Then after a certain point, when they are able to compete with the big guys, they will go through distributors.”

While the amount of beer purchased in Illinois has remained the same in recent years, Harris said people have been buying more craft beer and straying away from big brands…

Harris said the maximum capacity in which the microbreweries and brewpubs would be able to self-distribute is up for debate. Lobbyists and lawmakers are working on the details of the bill, which is currently in committee. Harris said because of the ABDI and Anheuser-Busch’s lobbying powers, craft brewers will need to come to a compromise for legislation to pass.

Meanwhile, Save the Craft continues its campaign to help who they refer to as “the little guys.”

2)  While Illinois currently allows small brewers and brewpubs the right to self-distribute up to a point, would you believe that a state like Michigan, who has been branding itself as the Great Beer State, doesn’t allow its dozens of brewers to do the same thing?  With all the success that Michigan has had with their breweries, it’s hard to believe that the smaller guys don’t have the same freedoms that Illinois brewpubs have – and yet, they’re still pushing forward.  From MLive.com:

The biggest difficulty new breweries are likely to face is finding a distributor who will work for them and getting sales people to convince stores and bars to carry their products, he said.

Herz, of the Brewers Association, said in general craft beer is not as common in many establishments as it is with the wine industry.

“Give it some years; the local brewery won’t have to fight to walk into their local establishment and say, ‘Hey, carry my beer on tap or in bottle,’” she said.

One way to make this easier, Herz said, would be to allow self-distribution in Michigan, one of 20 states that bars it. In states where smaller brewers are able to distribute, the “beer culture is a little easier to establish and take hold.”

First, hats off to all those Michigan microbreweries for building their businesses in a culture that isn’t even as open as ours.  If you’ve been following GuysDrinkingBeer for the past few months, you know we love our Michigan beers.

Second, you can see the reason Save The Craft exists, right from the Michigan microbrewers themselves.  Distribution is “a fight.”  If the brewers of Michigan want to self-distribute, and they say that it could make an already thriving microbrew subculture even stronger, why is Illinois considering restricting exactly what businesses in Michigan wants in order to make themselves stronger?

On the MLive link, there’s also a list of the many breweries that are planning on expanding in the near future, if not already underway with those plans at this moment.  If self-distribution would make the lives of those brewers easier (and almost all of the expanding brewers are under the current self-distribution limit set in Illinois) why wouldn’t you want to get out of their way and let them grow?

Politicians always talk a good game about things like common sense, protecting small business and looking out for the little guy.  Here we have an issue that’s been clearly defined as big business trying to push out the little guy, in an industry where craft beer has been proven to be on the rise and proven to create new jobs.  So whose side do you think the politicians should be on?

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About the Author

Karl

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Karl has written about food, travel and beer for Chicago Magazine, Draft Magazine, Thrillist, Time Out Chicago and more. His book, Beer Lovers Chicago, comes out in early 2017, and if you're buying, he's likely having a porter or a pale ale.